This LIFE Magazine Editorial appeared fifty years ago in the December 13, 1968 issue.
We shall be hearing more from Lyndon Johnson, not only in his last days as President, but thereafter as a lecturer and author, perhaps as senator again, certainly as a leading citizen. We may even come to think more highly of his administration than is now common. When he first took office during the national shock of President Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson said his primary aim was to unify the American people, and for quite a while he did. Toward the end, after the country’s deep divisions and his own unpopularity forced him to renounce a second term last March, he said he would rest his case with the historians. What are they likely to say?
Not even the journalists agree on that. Arthur Krock, dean emeritus of the Washington press corps, thinks the Johnson Presidency was an unmitigated disaster, while L.B.J.’s fellow Texan William S. White all but canonizes him. Even those who have worked for Johnson seem unsure; his achievements have plenty of admirers, but the man himself has few fervent fans. His has been the most puzzling administration of this century. His enormous political skill, energy and intelligence-and his unabashed delight in the use of power-have put him in the tradition of our most activist Presidents. His first full year in office, 1964, made him look like a potentially great President. In that year’s election, with a big assist from Goldwater, he scored the greatest popular margin ever (61.1%). Yet by 1966 he had sunk lower in the Gallup poll than any other President but Truman (for one spell). By 1967 Richard Rovere of The New Yorker could reckon that “what may well be a majority of the American people are persuaded that the President is a dishonest and dishonorable man. This comes close to being a national disaster.”(more…)